Ekso Bionics Is the Most Inspirational Company I’ve Ever Visited
… and the best tech investment you can make today
I’m a little different.
I believe boots on the ground are the only way to go. That’s why I’ve traveled to more countries than I can count, to personally visit the companies I recommend. Some names you would know and some you’ve never heard of (yet). I talk to founders, CEOs, accountants, factory workers, and truck drivers. To be honest, I can get a little pushy sometimes. I poke around their warehouses, play with their equipment, sample their products, dig through their books, and (politely) interrogate their employees.
I’m relentless with these guys – so much so that I got dubbed “the Indiana Jones of investing.” That made me laugh, but the way I see it, it’s simply my duty to you.
So I was pretty excited about my recent visit Ekso Bionics Holdings Inc. (OTC:EKSO) to dig up the details on our unstoppable “human augmentation” trend.
But I never thought I’d witness this…
My Visit to Ekso Bionics
Ekso’s headquarters is housed in the Ford Point building in the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park. When you walk in the door, you immediately see pictures of the Ekso’s “Ambassadors” – all of whom are pioneering neural rehabilitation in ways that were the realm of science fiction until recently.
Let me be blunt. My trip to tiny Ekso was quite simply the most inspirational visit I’ve ever made to any company… in any industry… anywhere in the world.
I say that because what I learned there convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re on the right track when it comes to the integration of human bodies and technology – a mix I call “human augmentation.”
My ambassador for the day was 51-year-old Chris Tagatac, a dynamic individual who once fell off a ladder and suffered a catastrophic spinal injury in the process.
Like many people who have suffered a traumatic event, Chris vividly remembers having to climb “just one more rung” on the ladder to reach the floodlight he was trying to change – his last step before being paralyzed.
I met Chris as he rolled up in his wheelchair to join the discussion I was having with CEO Nathan Harding and CFO Max Scheder-Bieschin about Ekso.
A few minutes later, Chris asked with a grin if I’d like to go for a walk with him so that we could see more of the company.
Now, I’d done a lot of research on human augmentation before visiting (you got all the highlights in your investor’s report). One thing I learned was that most wearable robotics suits require hours of learning and very complicated “suiting up” to get going. So I was fully prepared to be waiting a while or to be ushered into another room while Chris got ready.
That’s not what happened.
Almost casually, Chris moved from his wheelchair to an exoskeleton splayed across a chair next to us and buckled in. Less than five minutes later, he stood up at the push of a button – and we went for a walk together to see the rest of the factory.
The process was so seamless and so quick that I was taken aback. My jaw actually dropped.
Chris told me with a wry smile that he’s used to reactions like mine. In fact, one of his favorite things to do is go to a party in his wheelchair, suit up, and then stand casually with his buddies at a bar table as if nothing of note has taken place.
That’s part of what makes Ekso products so powerful.
You see, Ekso’s suits are designed from the get-go to switch from user to user. They require only a few key adjustments to accommodate different-sized femurs, for example, or hips. There’s no special electrical connections and no “under suits” needed, like there are with competitors’ products.
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Impressively, user profiles are changed literally at the push of a button mounted on the backpack to which the lightweight batteries (each about the size of a wine bottle) attach. This makes these suits tremendously efficient, both for both patients and for the rehabilitation centers in North America, Europe, Africa, and South America that have Ekso suits on hand. You can see these locations on the map below.
This rapid change capability is key. Not only can patients spend more time in each suit, but the staff needed to help them doesn’t have to spend a lot of time simply getting the machines “tuned” to each user.
Instead of helping, say, 10 patients a day, with anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour between therapy sessions, they can double or triple the number of physical therapy sessions, while requiring fewer staff. The gain in productivity is simply tremendous.
So are the results.
Ekso suits have helped people will severe mobility disorders, stroke victims and those who have experienced significant spinal trauma take more than 5,000,000 steps and counting.
But don’t take my word for it. Ekso has plenty of support from the medical community and third party researchers. It was picked as the “clear leader” in this space in September by Bergmannstrost Center in Germany. They study they presented at the International Workshop on Wearable Robotics compared Ekso with its two biggest competitors (ReWalk and Cyberdyne). Ekso came out ahead in 1) ease of changing from patient to patient, 2) absence of skin injuries from the suit, and 3) the operation of its software.
The human element in all this is magic. Talking to Chris, you get the sense that his injury does not define him. He defines life as he sees fit and, according to him, “Ekso’s suits make that absolutely possible.”
I learned during my visit that the company has also developed what it calls “variable assist.” This is a machine-aided technology allowing an Ekso exoskeleton to essentially “self-adapt” to each individual user’s physical capabilities. This is very, very important not to mention a significant competitive advantage.
That’s because it’s not uncommon for stroke victims or those who have suffered a traumatic spinal injury to have partial use of one side of their body and wildly different strength between left limbs and right limbs. (That was certainly the case for me when I crushed my neck in 1998 and lost control over much of the left side of my body for the balance of that year.)
No other wearable suit that I know of has this capability. This gives Ekso a commanding lead in the sensor technology needed to make this happen. We’ll come back to this in the weeks ahead.
As an investment, there’s no doubt Ekso is on the speculative side.
This company is very small so it’s almost completely off the radar at the moment. Not one in 1,000 investors has ever heard of it.
The company’s market cap is a mere $91 million. Average daily trading volume is approximately 609,000 shares over the past 90 days. With a price of just around $1 a share, many investors would give it a pass, especially since the company is losing money.
But I think that’d be exactly the wrong thing to do.
It’s not the least bit uncommon for the best high-tech companies to emerge from universities like Ekso did and to run at a loss while building up important proof of concept results and establishing the infrastructure needed to grow its customer base.
In that sense, Ekso’s tracking perfectly.
Ekso is different it is from other emerging technology companies I’ve reviewed over the years in that it’s NOT just “vaporware.” My visit convinced me that the company not only understands what it needs to do, but how to get there.
In addition to developing medical technology, Ekso’s got another side to it that’s working with the military. Much of the stuff they’re doing in this area today centers on making soldiers stronger and towards increasing their work capacity in combat situations. Load carrying capacity is especially critical, for example, when you consider the average load out for a Marine these days is well over 100 pounds.
Ekso’s received more than $35 million in research grants from the Department of Defense and has licensed technology to Lockheed Martin. The company was recently selected by Google’s Boston Dynamics to continue developing technology for DARPA’s Warrior Web Task A project. Furthermore, Ekso has partnerships with the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and medical rehabilitation experts, including the Rehab Institute of Chicago, Kessler, and Glostrup Hospital.
Normally when you do that, Uncle Sam or your partners own everything. But Ekso has wisely retained core intellectual property rights. So I expect the company to commercialize new developments at a dramatically faster pace and in a more thorough manner than other emerging technology companies.
I also like the fact that we’re talking about a company with an initial target medical market of more than $1 billion. Very few companies have that kind of potential built in their initial products. Imagine what happens when they lateral the exoskeleton into industrial, safety, and manufacturing sectors.
And, finally, we’re talking about a tiny innovative player with more than 150 international patents and 29 U.S. patents – seven of which have been granted.
If anything, $1 per share is unbelievably cheap. I still think this is a $21.14 stock by 2020, a mere six years from now.
You can do the math as easily as I can.
There’s something else to consider, too. Ekso is not just a great investment for your financial future. It’s a great investment for the future of humankind.
Wait until they figure out how to link this stuff directly to the brain!
I’m tracking that thread right now and will have an update shortly that is every bit as exciting.
Best regards for great investing,